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Journalism needs women


women journalists, WiJ, Eleanor Mills, And chair of Women in Journalism calls for more flexible working and more support for women in journalism.

Writing in the British Journalism Review recently, Eleanor Mills, editorial director of The Sunday Times and chair of the campaigning organisation Women in Journalism (WiJ), asked ‘Why do the best jobs go to men?’

Journalism is a tough industry, Mills acknowledged, and said she herself nearly left after the birth of her first child.

‘Journalism is a noble profession,’ Mills said. ‘We hold power to account and write the first draft of history.

‘Equality and democracy is not truly possible without half of those voices being female – there is a long way to go.’

Long hours and shift work are difficult enough when young, so when family pressures are added to the mix, many women choose alternative paths as ways to stay in the industry.

Those paths often mean part-time and or features-focused work because they generally have more family-friendly schedules than do news, sport and business.

What helped Mills was the offer from her editor to work from home one day a week.

‘It made all the difference,’ she said, and ‘was a lifeline to be able to be the kind of mother and worker I wanted to be.’

But does gender really make a difference to the news agenda?

Resoundingly, the answer is yes. catalogues the gender breakdown of the male:female writers featured on the front page of the New York Times (40:12 on 6 September), while Mills pointed to WiJ research that showed the ratio of men to women front-page bylines in the UK to be approximately 78:22.

It cannot be coincidence that Bournemouth University research found that ‘women in 2012 were receiving less coverage in proportion to their relative numbers in parliament than in 2002 and 1992 and were being quoted less than 20 years ago.’

Mills uses her own experience to illustrate the importance of the female perspective on news.

Before female genital mutilation gained the widespread attention is has recently been receiving, Mills convinced her editors that the topic deserved high-profile coverage, and the Sunday Times eventually ran an extensive front-page story on it.

She said that the Evening Standard then picked up the story and successfully campaigned for a change in the law.

And Mills is sure it was significant that the Evening Standard is edited by a woman: Sarah Sands is the Evening Standard’s chair.

The Sunday Times, The Times, The Guardian and the Financial Times all have women in deputy editor roles, which Mills said is called ‘the marzipan layer just below the summit.’

But at the very top, only three national papers are edited by women, and, as Mills pointed out, all three are editors of the Sunday editions.

In addition to Sands at the Evening Standard (as chair), Lisa Markwell heads The Independent on Sunday, Alison Phillips is in charge of the Sunday Mirror and Victoria Newton oversees The Sun on Sunday.

‘The chaps remain firmly ensconced’ on the rest of the publications, Mills said.

So what can be done to improve the balance of gender in the upper echelons of newsrooms?

Drawing on her research and interviews with other female journalists, Mills has made five recommendations:

Be tech-savvy – blog, vlog, tweet, etc – know how to build a multi-media audience;

Find a life partner who will celebrate your success as well as support you domestically by helping with children and household duties;

Be stubborn in getting your voice heard – although she acknowledged that this can be difficult for young women who are often taught to suppress their exhibitionist or competitive tendencies;

Senior women in the industry need to mentor and encourage the next generation; and

Management needs to be pushed and encouraged to be flexible and imaginative, particularly in finding ways to support women who have small children or other family responsibilities.

This will help keep women in the industry, something Mills says is essential to forcing change.

Because if too many women keep opting out because they can’t find a way to fit work around their personal lives, there won’t be enough women in senior positions to make change permanent.

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